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Trading Brandin Cooks would be the right route for the New Orleans Saints

After giving some time to think about a potential Brandin Cooks trade from the Saints, it would be hard to suggest that it’s not the right call to make.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When news of rumors break in the NFL, it’s always so fascinating to me to see what side of the fence people stand on. Generally speaking, there are two types of reactions: Those who would welcome the notion with open arms, and those who adamantly throw it out the window due to disbelief. Of course, there’s so many that fall in the ‘in between’ category, and that’s where I’ve mainly been with the latest Brandin Cooks trade rumors from the New Orleans Saints.

This is quite a conundrum to have if you’re Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton, and it’s not a blanketed yes or no when you think about trading away a major player in the offense. Never in a million years would fans believe that offensive weapons like Chris Ivory, Kenny Stills, Darren Sproles, and Jimmy Graham would get traded away in the past and still see the team keep on producing as one of the NFL’s top units. Brandin Cooks, who has accounted for just over 22 percent of the passing offense (2,311 yards) and 25 percent of passing touchdowns (17 touchdowns) in the past two seasons, will obviously command some large market value being on the trade block.

Speaking of value, I don’t believe the Saints’ asking price is absurd for Cooks. Per a source close to the team, I was told the team was absolutely seeking a first-rounder for 2017 and picks in 2018. Even if Cooks does get offloaded, I don’t see the Saints paying top dollar for a receiver replacement either. For perspective, Cooks is set to count for just $2.66 million against the 2017 salary cap, and if the Saints were to pick up his fifth-year option for 2018 and keep him, that cap number would escalate to around $8 million. It sounds like a lot, but is it really?

Here’s a look at the Top 15 receivers, courtesy of Spotrac, with their 2018 cap hits.

  1. Antonio Brown, $17.67 million
  2. Dez Bryant, $16.5 million
  3. A.J. Green, $13.75 million
  4. Jeremy Maclin, $13.4 million
  5. T.Y. Hilton, $13 million
  6. Julio Jones, $12.9 million
  7. Randall Cobb, $12.75 million
  8. Jordy Nelson, $12.55 million
  9. Demaryius Thomas, $12.03 million
  10. Emmanuel Sanders, $10.94 million
  11. Doug Baldwin, $10.4 million
  12. Keenan Allen, $9.65 million
  13. Torrey Smith, $9.6 million
  14. Golden Tate, $9.35 million
  15. Eric Decker, $9 million

With this data, I don’t believe that Cooks is wrong in assessing his market value being in the double-digit conversation. Clearly, the thought of the Saints paying around $10 million annually to a position where that collectively makes up just $5.375 million this year (missing Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman too) while having Drew Brees in the mix doesn’t seem likely to happen.

Obviously, the Saints could greatly benefit from the return from a potential Cooks deal. I’m not entirely convinced that a deal gets done before the trade deadline, as teams will certainly turn to free agency this week to look to solve their open roster needs. Still, the thought of what could be gained by the Saints to deal one of their big weapons is certainly intriguing.

With so many looking at this season as the most crucial for the Payton-Loomis-Brees era, the notion that the Saints could end up flipping the fourth-year receiver into an additional starting caliber position is certainly appealing. As mentioned in my pros and cons column the other day, the defense absolutely needs some attention.

Whether or not you buy into the disgruntled temperament of the young receiver or the other reports like Cooks being the driving force behind a trade is somewhat irrelevant. Virtually every team is interested in Cooks, and the Saints hold all the cards here. They don’t have to trade Cooks at all, and with this being the final season of his rookie contract, he definitely would still need to produce.

The Saints offense has produced without key superstars season after season when everyone thought there’d be severe drop off. And this would figure to be a huge gamble on the surface, but it’s never impossible to replace someone in today’s NFL. If there’s a team willing to shell out the team’s asking price of Cooks, then it’s “all-in” for me when thinking about the potential building blocks of a future defense through the draft.

Only time will tell if and when Cooks does end up being in a Saints uniform for 2017.